“Repo: The Genetic Opera” is based on the stage musical which was based on the book “The Repossession Mambo” by Eric Garcia which the newly released movie “Repo Men” is also based on. While the new movie embraces a “Minority Report” theme and fashions artificial organs, the musical sticks to an even grittier story with actual organs being traded and repossessed like hunks of bloody meat. Anthony Stewart Head plays Nathan, the Repo Man who works for GeneCo headed by Rotti Largo, played by Paul Sorvino. Nathan has a daughter with a blood condition, Shilo played by Alexa Vega that he keeps hidden away in a tower like Rapunzel. As Shilo seeks a cure to her condition and questions about her past, she is sucked into the GeneCo world as all answers will be found at the spectacular last performance of the Blind Mag at the Genetic Opera. Almost all the dialogue in this movie is sung.
What I really liked about this film was the way it was shot. It used an exposure filter that makes everything dark in a Tim Burton type of way and at times super glowy like a music video. It is a little blurry and hard to see sometimes, but it works in this story of a search for answers that take on increasing clarity and the focused perception lets you know what to notice. The home set reminds me of the Haunted Mansion at Disney World in its style and it has misty 3D portraits of Shilo’s mother, Marni placed thoughtfully throughout as a constant reminder of her legacy to Shilo and the burdens left upon Nathan by her death.
Another really great stylistic choice was using comic panels to introduce and tell the back stories of characters. It feels like it is coming straight out of a graphic novel like “Sin City” and keeps the narrative straight with all these different characters jumping in and out. Each story contains and important secret and answer that adds to the culminating tension.
Anthony Stewart Head is mostly remembered for being Giles in the very popular “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” series that once did a musical episode. His voice has rock edge and flavor to it unexpected from a man type cast as a librarian. He has to go back and forth between over-protectiveness to his daughter, guilt over her predicament, and hiding his contractual profession from her. When he dons his suit and goes into Repo Man mode, he brings a relish to his job that Jude Law and Forest Whitaker never had. In one scene, he removes a man’s intenstines and proceeds to use him as a hand puppet during the song “Thankless Job.”
Alexa Vega got most of her fame in kids’ movies like the “Spykids” franchise. How she got from that to this is beyond me. As Shilo, she wears a black wig that makes her look like a young Morticia Addams or Winona Ryder. Shilo is the innocent in this story, a victim of her circumstances and a pawn in a larger game. She still tries to play Nancy Drew and make her own decisions, but acting out against her dad (the song “Seventeen”) feels like a girl throwing a fit and dressing promiscuously to irritate him.
The most awkward casting job is of Paul Sorvino as Rotti Largo. What works well is his appearance looking like the head of the Italian mob to be the head of the evil corporation. His voice has a lot of vibrato and a good operatic tone when he gets into longer notes, but whenever he has lines of dialogue to speak-sing, it comes off really unnatural and funny. Being the main villain, I do not think we are supposed to be laughing at him quite so much.
While you might just hate the idea of Paris Hilton being in this movie (or any movie), there is no doubt that she is perfectly and ironically cast here. If it were 2056 and people were getting organs replaced for cosmetic reasons, this is exactly who Paris Hilton would be. Amber Sweet is daughter to Rotti Largo, head of GeneCo and is widely believed to be first in line to inherit the company since her brothers, Luigi (Bill Moseley) and Pavi (Nivek Ogre) are too annoyingly incompetent to even consider. Luigi has a short temper and is prone to killing his subordinates. Pavi has a weird facial fetish and is constantly replacing his face with new ones held in place with clamps looking like Greek theatrical masks.
Amber’s flaw though, is an addiction to…surgery. The only way to ease her pain is to take a drug called Zydrate. Funny thing is she is supposed to be spokesperson for the Zydrate Support Network. Paris Hilton gets to dance in skimpy outfits and act like a loose, extremely bratty drug addict with a terrible singing voice which is why it works so well with her. Probably the funniest part of the film is when Amber attempts to sing at the Genetic Opera and her face falls off.
By far the coolest character in this film that made the movie memorable is the great Sarah Brightman who originated the character of Christine in “Phantom of the Opera”. Here she plays Blind Mag, Shilo’s mother’s best friend who got new eyes from GeneCo and has been singing for them under contract as a spokesperson ever since. She wants to break her contract which compels Rotti to order Nathan to repossess her eyes as Repo Man. As soon as she gets on the scene, the movie gets more exciting. Her magic eyes start whirling around and create holograms. She is clearly the most vocally trained in the movie and most talented. Her performance at the Genetic Opera is the best singing in the film and it’s a shame that her part isn’t bigger.
The biggest surprise for me was finding out that Terrance Zdunich who plays the GraveRobber is also an Art Director on this film and many others and this was his first onscreen credit in a film. He handles it amazingly well considering the singing, particularly the screaming note of “GRAVES!!!” He looks like a vampire with a bit of Cabaret style to it. He also co-wrote the play and screenplay with Darren Smith.
This film has lots of B movie style cheap thrills with violence which you could expect from the director of three movies in the “Saw” franchise. There is lots of swearing and the film maintains an edgy rock vibe through most of it. If you like rock operas and/or B horror and the basic premise shared with “Repo Men”, you would probably like this. Otherwise, this is not a movie for your parents or grandparents and is more of a cult hit than mainstream.